Academic journal article Global Governance

Virtues of a Narrow Mission: The UN Peace Operation in Nepal

Academic journal article Global Governance

Virtues of a Narrow Mission: The UN Peace Operation in Nepal

Article excerpt

While most UN peace operations have become large and multidimensional, UN support to postwar Nepal, the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), was authorized as a "focused mission of limited duration." Its lightness notwithstanding, the mission made a significant contribution by monitoring the cantonment process, assisting with the elections, and being an active watchdog of implementation as stipulated in the 2006 peace agreement. The case study casts doubt on the assumption that international assistance to peacebuilding can compensate for lack of local capacity. Nepal did not meet conventional criteria for "local capacity" for postwar peacebuilding (as, e.g., used by Michael W. Doyle and Nicholas Sambanis 2006), but a more prominent international role would likely have been counterproductive by courting Nepalese nationalist reactions and Indian opposition. A mission carefully calibrated to take account of these concerns helped keep the peace process on track. KEYWORDS: United Nations, peace operations, Nepal.

FOR THE PAST TWO DECADES, UN PEACE OPERATIONS TO ASSIST COUNTRIES emerging from civil war have steadily become more expansive and multidimensional, with broad peacebuilding mandates added to peacekeeping. This development has been supported by a scholarly literature that emphasizes the importance of international assistance to consolidate peace in contemporary postwar settings. While the nature of the assistance varies--some writers emphasize military peacekeeping commitments while others focus on postwar economic management--the premise is that international assistance is critically important. (1) In some cases, however, the UN has mounted much more modest operations that nevertheless have contributed significantly to the transition from war to peace. Little attention has been paid to these cases in either the scholarly literature or the policy discourse even though they raise intriguing questions about the possible virtues of minimalism in international peace operations. What are the contributions, constraints, and dilemmas of such operations? Are they only relevant in "easy" transitions from war to peace when conditions for peacebuilding are quite favorable? If so, what are the parameters of these situations?

In this article, I explore these questions with respect to the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN). In some respects, the conditions for war-to-peace transition in Nepal were not easy, and the postwar environment remained troubled and uncertain. Nevertheless, the peace agreement signed in 2006 between the Maoists and the government was roughly speaking on track some four years later, and renewed warfare between the parties seemed unlikely. The UN played an important--possibly critical--role in the transition. Yet the mission had an extraordinarily narrow mandate and no armed peacekeepers. As such, UNMIN belongs to a small category of UN peace operations. Out of slightly more than fifty operations in 2008, only perhaps half a dozen, mostly political missions were similarly minimalistic. (2)

The Rationale for a "Focused Mission"

In some respects, postwar Nepal was not a prima facie case for a light mission. The civil war had lasted for ten years when the Nepalese Maoists and the government signed a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) in 2006. The fighting had left deep social and political wounds. Some 15,000 persons had been killed or made to disappear, and many more thousands had been forced to leave their homes. The deep-seated social, political, and economic divisions that had fueled the civil war remained. Although aggregate indicators of poverty in the country as a whole had decreased during the war, one-third of the population was still living in poverty by 2003. (3) In contested areas, development projects had come to a near standstill. Complicating the peacebuilding process was a sense that the country was on the threshold of significant social transitions that could be difficult to manage. …

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